Denver, CO and doom metal. The two have in the past few years become synonymous. The weed-laced city has become a haven for all that is slow, low, and filled to the brim with psych, sludge, stoner, and death-infused doom and gloom. Primitive Man, Khemmis, Spectral Voice, In the Company of Serpents, Cloud Catcher, and a slew of newcomers all hail from the Mile High, and the madness is spreading. Green Druid is the latest of these young whipper-snappers to receive international attention, signing last year to Earache Records following the release of their Ashen Blood EP. Now that EP has become a full-length record, and it’s a doozy. But is it good enough to enshrine Green Druid among the pantheon of excellent Denver doom bands? One of the most difficult challenges that a band like Green Druid faces is that of expectation. Coming from one of the United States’ most successful and talented doom metal scenes, the band’s debut has been hyped like none other both locally and nationally. That’s a lot of unrealistic expectation to place on a debut record. Does it live up to the hype? Get high with Lincoln and I as we dive into this behemoth of a record and find out.
With Ashen Blood, Green Druid burst out swinging for the stoner fences, incorporating a smorgasbord of influences not only from within the greater doom landscape, but also from the fertile Denver scene writ large, doom or otherwise. The result is an album that is reverent to the doom tradition but also is infused with a sense of energy and vitality, bursting at the seams with ideas and the confidence to expand the band’s – and the genre’s – sound. Nobody will ever mistake Ashen Blood for anything other than a doom record, nor should they. The 70+ minutes packed within are chock-full of dense tones, crashing riffs, and a stoner haze so thick the album should come packaged with eyedrops. But beyond the surface-layer sheen is an album of vigorous diversity: diversity of sounds, diversity in execution, and diversity of ideas for what doom can be.
Opener “Pale Blood Sky” displays the band’s dual commitment to competency and experimentation. The track opens with a textbook-headbanger doozy of a riff, full of fuzzy tone and muscular menace that serves as a perfect introduction to Green Druid’s stoner friendly sound. But just as the riff finds a comfortable groove in listeners’ brains, the song morphs into an up-tempo, percussive jam that highlights Ryan Sims’s power behind the kit and the band’s more rock ‘n roll tendencies. Around the six-minute mark the track morphs yet again, downshifting into a molasses-sticky tempo for a sprawling, psychedelic-heavy outro of soaring guitars, wailing vocals, and dense, trippy atmosphere. All this within a single track.
The diversity continues across the entire album. Green Druid attack doom from all angles, be it in the form of a massive 10-minute slow build of shaggy, trancelike atmospherics (“Agoraphobia”), swaggering and cocksure bluesy riffing that would make Electric Wizard proud (“Rebirth”), or a gargantuan, 18-minute epic that contains everything from doom ‘n roll to traditional stoner amp worship to oversaturated, fried-out drone ambience (“Cursed Blood”). Such ambidextrousness comes from behind the microphone as well: vocalist Chris McLaughlin fluently alternates between silky cleans, burly shouts, and blackened rasps, sometimes all within the same track. The end result is an album of individual mission statements: each track comes complete with its own unique personality, ideas, and distinct vision for the breadth of what doom can encompass.
It’s clear listening to these songs that the members of Green Druid aren’t just purveyors of doom; they’re also genuine devotees of the genre and its disparate pockets. And with Ashen Blood, the band is both paying homage to sounds they love and also making an effort to continue the expansion of doom’s big tent. All of the above elements ultimately congeal into an excellent record from these Denver doomers. The riffs are here in droves, and the sheer audacity of writing a debut album nearly 80-minutes long is justified through a patient, menacing delivery that makes each subsequent riff heavier and sweeter than the last. Is Green Druid the second coming of Sleep? Only time will tell. But for now we can rest easy knowing that doom metal with this level of ambition and dedication to craft exists. The hype is real, it is justified, and those who dive into Ashen Blood will find a world of sonic integrity and molasses-drenched intensity that they may not want to leave. A fantastic debut from a band with limitless potential. Heartily recommended.
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Ashen Blood will see release on March 16th, and is available for pre-order on physical and digital formats through the band’s Bandcamp page.